Are the defenders of 'Western civilization' in the East?...

Russia, China Conduct Walk Out in U.N. Council
By Evelyn Leopold (6-23-00)

  • "Gagging people's mouths is not the best way to discuss the acute international problems in this way,'' [Russian UN Ambassador] Lavrov said. "Even a defendant has a right to defend his or her position.''

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters, Friday June 23 3:02 PM ET ) - The Security Council took the unusual step of excluding Yugoslavia's U.N. envoy from a debate on the Balkans on Friday, prompting Russia's ambassador to stage a demonstrative walk out.

"To discuss the Balkan problem without Yugoslavia is nonsense,'' Ambassador Sergei Lavrov said before leaving the chamber and placing a junior envoy in the Russian seat.

China's envoy followed a few minutes later during a speech by Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, presumably because he headed NATO during its 11-week bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo crisis last year.

China, however, participated in the debate on the Balkans whereas no Russian diplomat spoke after the controversy over Yugoslavia's presence.

U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke led the challenge on grounds that the Yugoslav leadership, including President Slobodan Milosevic, was under indictment by a U.N. tribunal for alleged crimes committed during last year's Kosovo crisis.

"It would be inappropriate to allow the representative of this government to use this council in a discussion of where we stand on Kosovo,'' he said.

Yugoslavia's envoy Vladislav Jovanovic has spoken to the council many times before on Balkan issues, the last being one year ago shortly after the indictments in May 1999.

Diplomats said he had tried to since then but was prevented in private consultations. One key council envoy said Friday's confrontation was ordered by Milosevic.

Milosevic and four of his top lieutenants were indicted as war criminals by the Hague-based tribunal for crimes against humanity, including murder, during the Kosovo conflict.

The indictments took place amid last spring's NATO bombing raid against Serbia to force Belgrade's troops out of Kosovo province where they were killing and expelling in large numbers the country's ethnic Albanian majority.

The vote on whether Jovanovic should speak was four in favor, seven against with four abstentions in the 15-member council. Under council rules, procedural matters needs nine ''yes'' votes, with permanent members, such as Russia, the United States, Britain, China and France, unable to use their veto.

Voting in favor of Jovanovic were Russia, China, Ukraine and Namibia; those against were the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Canada; abstaining were Mali, Tunisia, Argentina and Jamaica.

Jovanovic told reporters the action in the council was part ''of the aggressive policy which the U.S. administration has been pursing against Yugoslavia for years.''

He said that the seven votes against him were from NATO members and two "extremist'' Islamic countries, Bangladesh and Malaysia, thereby constituting a "moral victory'' for Belgrade.

Lavrov told the council the vote was against the spirit of the U.N. Charter which allowed even a country that was not a U. N. member to participate when it was a party to a conflict the council was discussing.

"Gagging people's mouths is not the best way to discuss the acute international problems in this way,'' Lavrov said.

"A very dangerous precedent has thus been created when states that are unpalatable for political reasons are being isolated from participation in the work of the United Nations,'' Lavrov said.

"Yugoslavia has a right to participate. It is a country whose interests are directly affected by this question,'' Lavrov told the council, adding that the tribunal was a politically motivated.

"Even a defendant has a right to defend his or her position,'' he said.

After the vote on Yugoslavia, China's deputy ambassador, Shen Guofang, walked out of the council during an address by Javier Solana, now the secretary-general of a European Union council on a common foreign policy.

When he returned Shen mentioned the U.S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which Washington says was due to bad maps. He also reminded the council that every country had a right to state its views. "This decision is a wrong decision'' and "does not help a solution in the Balkans,'' Shen said.

Solana was secretary-general of NATO during its air campaign to force Belgrade to stop repressing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo province, thousands of whom were expelled..

Yugoslavia's membership of the United Nations has been in dispute since 1992, when four of its six constituent republics declared their independence. It has been suspended from the U.N. General Assembly until its status is cleared.

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